GPgarage Moto builds a ’90s Baja dream racer…
Introduced in 1985, the Honda XR600R was destined to become one of the most successful off-road motorcycles in history. In a recent retrospective on the mighty air-cooled machine, Dirt Bike marvels at the unexpected success of the XR600R in the world of both competition and recreation:
“Do you think that anyone at Honda knew? Do you think that when the first XR600R rolled off the assembly line, anyone had an inkling that it would become the definitive off-road bike, not only of a generation, but for two or three generations? Do you think they knew that they had just built a wildly successful race bike as well as general purpose campground cruiser?”
The XR600R won the Baja 1000 five times, competing against the mighty Kawasaki two-strokes for desert domination, while Scott Summers ruled the woods in GNCC, ISDE, and Hare & Hound competition. The bike would be produced nearly unchanged until 2000, and today the XR650L dual-sport continues to carry on the legacy.
One friend Matteo Gualandi of Italy’s GPgarage Moto has been slowly building his stable of Honda Baja race replicas, becoming something of an air-cooled XR whisperer in the process. A former motocross racer, Matteo has not only built machines such as his Johnny Campbell XR628R, ’94 XR680R, and XR667 Baja Monster we’ve previously featured, but his workshop also fields a pair of modern CRF rally bikes in the Italian Rally Championship.
Matteo wanted his factory Baja replicas to be as authentic as possible, which meant scouring old magazines, tracking down interviews with Honda team members, and visiting various museums and collections, then fabricating many of the exotic one-off parts in his workshop — much like the factory race teams had done.
With his stable of factory Baja replicas complete, Matteo is now moving on to builds that allow him a bit more creativity:
“After a lot of XR Baja replicas, I’m finally free to build an XR with my own ideas, as if it were the XR of a privateer who raced Baja in the early 90s.”
Nicknamed the “XR628 Baja Red,” this build represents Matteo’s dream of the ultimate privateer desert racer, with function and aesthetics blended into one hell of an off-road weapon. The engine has been rebuilt with a 628cc big-bore kit, breathing through an FCR carb and custom-built exhaust, while a front oil-cooler keeps the engine temps in check — always something to watch with these big air-cooled singles.
A large-capacity Clarke fuel tank means plenty of trail time for the rider, while an array of vintage Acerbis plastics keeps the bike armored and looking good, too. Most of the major parts have been Cerakoted for a handsome, highly durable finish. Matteo even had a custom helmet done up as a Baja homage to accompany the build
Matteo is rightly proud of the bike’s aesthetics, but the ride is just as important:
“The bike is very fun to ride and the engine is a kick in the ass when you open the big carb.”
Below, we talk to Matteo for more details on this Baja Red XR628 desert racer.
Honda XR628 Baja Red: Builder Interview
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
Honda XR600, 1995.
• Why was this bike built?
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
After a lot of XR Baja replicas, I’m finally free to build an XR with my own ideas, as if it were the XR of a privateer who raced Baja in the early 90s.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Oil radiator kit, custom exhaust, oil decanter kit, 628cc engine kit, FCR carb kit, Cerakote painting, Clarke fuel tank, old Acerbis accessories, and more.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
“XR628 Baja Red.”
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
The bike is very fun to ride and the engine is a kick in the ass when you open the big carb.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
Yes, the aesthetics of the bike — it’s all from my own ideal bike dreams.
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